UNA-Canada Fact Sheets > The UN and Peacekeeping
Although it was never envisioned in the UN Charter, peacekeeping has become an integral and high profile component of UN operations. The United Nations defines peacekeeping as "the deployment of international military and civilian personnel to a conflict area with the consent of the parties to the conflict in order to: stop or contain hostilities or supervise the carrying out of a peace agreement."1 While this definition serves as a useful reference point, no single definition of peacekeeping exists. Peacekeeping continues to evolve as new conflicts arise and demands to resolve them are increasingly placed on the UN.
It was a Canadian who first proposed a UN mission along the lines of what we have come to know as peacekeeping. Prior to 1956, UN operations had (with the exception of the Korean War) been confined to unarmed observation and supervision. In 1956, however, Canada won worldwide recognition for its diplomatic efforts when Britain, France, and Israel attempted to prevent Egypt from seizing control of the Suez Canal. Canada's Minister for External Affairs at the time, Lester B. Pearson, proposed the formation and deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force to "secure and supervise the cessation of hostilities." A Canadian General, E.L.M. Burns, who had been commanding the UN Truce Supervision Organization in Palestine, was named commander of the first United Nations peacekeeping force. Pearson was awarded the 1957 Nobel Peace Prize for his innovative thinking and long-term commitment to peace.
Traditionally, peacekeepers supervise cease-fires and observe the movements of the opposing forces in an attempt to bring calm to an area and to facilitate a negotiated settlement to disputes. Peacekeepers seldom have the capability to enforce the terms of a cease-fire or agreement. The peacekeepers main powers are the moral authority of the UN and the legitimacy awarded by the support of the international community. The success of a peacekeeping mission depends on the cooperation of the parties in conflict. A peacekeeping mandate does not include imposing a solution on unwilling parties.
Peacekeeping is a demanding enterprise that requires the basic skills of a capable combat soldier and much more. Peacekeepers must be effective negotiators, be capable of standing firm in the face of hostile forces, and be prepared to endure privation. As demands on peacekeepers increase, so too must the skills required to meet them. Peacekeeping has evolved to the point where demands placed on peacekeepers transcend their traditional role, rendering it virtually unrecognizable to its founders. Peacekeepers are now asked to do much more than they were in previous missions, often in situations where there is no peace to keep. The peacekeepers responsibilities now include such elements as disarming military forces, providing security to the population, organizing elections, forestalling conflicts, encouraging peace settlements, training and leading local de-mining teams, protecting humanitarian aid convoys, and performing civil functions. The evolution of peacekeeping has led to numerous debates concerning the use of peacekeeping and peacemaking as tools to deal with conflicts in the international community.
Since 1956, the number and scope of peacekeeping operations have increased exponentially. Over 750,000 military troops and civilian police from around the world, in addition to thousands of other civilians, have served as peacekeepers. There have been a total of 42 peacekeeping missions since the United Nations inception, including 16 that are currently operational.
Canada has always been a strong supporter of the United Nations and of peacekeeping, and has participated in almost every mission since its inception. The Canadian Armed Forces are recognized worldwide as being among the finest peacekeepers. As of December 31, 1996, 1044 Canadians were committed to eight peacekeeping missions around the world. The total number of UN forces involved in peacekeeping as of November 30, 1996, was 25,649, making Canada the eighth largest troop contributor behind Pakistan, the Russian Federation, India, Bangladesh, Jordan, Brazil, and Poland. Much to the surprise of most Canadians, however, Canadas financial contribution to the UN peacekeeping budget is minimal. In 1994, at the height of UN peacekeeping, Canada contributed C$127.7 million, less than one quarter of what it costs to operate the Montreal Police Department. By 1996, Canada was contributing even lessC$94.9 million, an amount roughly equivalent to 3.1 percent of the UNs total peacekeeping budget. Canadas decreasing financial contribution to UN peacekeeping does not reflect a declining commitment. Instead, it illustrates a trend in which an increasing number of states are becoming more involved in UN peacekeeping at the same time as the cost of peacekeeping is falling. A growing number of states are recognizing what Canada has long acknowledged: peacekeeping is beneficial to the international community.
While the Canadian Armed Forces have played a leading role in international peacekeeping, many Canadian civilians have also made significant contributions. Politicians and diplomats, for example, have been active in negotiating peace in a number of countries. Members of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and other Canadian police forces have performed policing functions in countries including the former Yugoslavia and Haiti, helping to improve the stability in those countries. Canadian police have also provided training for police forces, encouraging respect for human rights in the administration of justice and closer ties between the officers and the community. Other Canadian civilians have played an important role in extending democracy around the world by preparing and monitoring elections in countries like Cambodia, El Salvador, and Angola.
The commitment to peacekeeping has not been without sacrifice. Since peacekeeping first began in 1956, over 1450 peacekeepers have died. More than 100 of these peacekeepers were Canadians who died attempting to bring peace to the world.
Canada has an exemplary record in peacekeeping and is poised to continue
its long-standing commitment to the United Nations. Canada has recently
been an active proponent of a United Nations Rapid Reaction Force, conducting
a study, Towards a Rapid Reaction Capability for the United Nations,
which recommended changes to the UN system that would enhance the UNs
capability to respond rapidly and effectively to crisis situations.
Canada will continue to be an important contributor to UN peacekeeping
in the years ahead.
1 The United Nations Peacekeeping Operations.